Managing Everything

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Remember when you didn’t worry about your parents? They took care of their own affairs, and it never crossed your mind that there might come a time when they wouldn’t be able to keep house, run errands, cook their own meals, do the laundry, pay the monthly bills, and attend church like they’d been doing for as long as you could remember. These things were so much a part of your reality that you took them for granted. Sure, after your mom’s illness she needed help for a few weeks with little things around the house, but mostly your dad managed these. And when he began to forget little things here and there, everyone laughed about it and your mom may have covered for him more than anyone knew.

For some family caregivers, the role emerges gradually. You pitch in from time to time, and one day you realize you are planning your week around when you need to be available to help your aging loved ones. You find doctor’s appointments intruding on little league practices or high school performances. You notice the house isn’t as clean as it once was and feel the need to tidy up when you come for a visit. You take a load or two of clothes home to wash while you do your own housework, just to keep your dad from having to go down into the basement. You notice stacks of unopened mail lying around the house, and some have colored labels signifying second notices or cut-off warnings. Suddenly you realize that, in addition to managing your own life, you have taken on the management of your parents’ lives as well.

If you find yourself needing to be the manager of everything these days, the situation can feel uncomfortable for everyone involved. Your parents may not realize how dependent they have become, and question why you do everything for them; a spouse or siblings might resent your managerial role with your parents or question why you felt it necessary to take charge. Your own family might even resent your self-acquired responsibility for your parents and their well-being because your children or spouse feel neglected or forgotten.

One or more family conversations can help everyone get on the same page about when and why your managerial role is necessary right now, and what needs to happen next to make the best of the situation. The 40-70 Rule is a great resource for having these conversations.

An objective professional can also help guide the family dialogue through the necessary steps to manage everything in its turn. Geriatric Care Managers are a good resource for this type of intervention, but so are home care professionals who have many years of giving counsel to families dealing with situations like yours. They can make recommendations, give referrals, and offer solutions that can help you balance out your life and responsibilities while caring for those throughout your corner of the world.

 Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about managing your life and your parents’ lives as a family caregiver.



Overcoming Loss of Appetite

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Family caregivers deal with issues that are both common and perplexing when caring for an aging parent or relative. One of these issues is their loved one’s loss of appetite. Loss of appetite is common among older people. Partly this is a natural occurrence because as our bodies age, we don’t need as much food to keep us going. But sometimes loss of appetite is caused by other factors like illness, disease, wear and tear on the digestive system, and even loss of control or depression.

One primary reason for a change in appetite is the loss of taste or smell. As we age, our taste buds change over time. Foods we did not like as children we might develop a taste for when we are older. Tomatoes were like that for Betsy. She hated tomato sandwiches as a girl, and now they are a favorite treat.

Conversely, if your aging loved one enjoyed a food when they were younger, but now they say it has no flavor, you might try adding a little spice or some herbs to pump up the taste. I’m not suggesting you salt everything well, because that’s not a good idea! But try a little curry powder or add raisins or chopped dates to raise the sweetness naturally. If a texture is a problem as well, you could add some nourishing soups made with coconut milk, which adds both protein and fat. Here’s a link for some recipe suggestions using coconut milk.

Older adults might also resist eating if medical conditions cause unpleasant physical problems like digestive discomfort or socially unacceptable results like passing gas. They may also decide they want to die as Betsy’s mother did, and so stop eating. This is usually a sign of depression driven by the loss of control or a sense of isolation in their lives. To overcome these issues, you need to become creative by asking your loved one to help plan meals. Make occasions of mealtimes by inviting other family members or friends to join in. Many older people don’t like to eat alone. Try setting the table with the good china, lighting candles, and preparing colorful foods whose flavors are boosted by spices and seasoning to engage your loved one at mealtime. A little excitement might make them more enthusiastic about mealtime.

We hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about ways to overcome an older person’s appetite loss.

When Little Ones Come to Visit

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Young children are often a joy to grandparents and older relatives. The patter of little feet and squeals of joy can bring warm smiles to faces covered in wrinkles and age spots. Especially if the little ones live far away, the visit is usually highly anticipated by older grandparents or relatives.

 But visiting little ones can also create special challenges for family caregivers and those they care for when the quiet solitude of home is shattered by shrill voices and quickly moving little bodies that bounce around the room like a pinball. The sudden introduction of running, shouting, laughing or quarrelsome young children into a normally sedate environment can add a great deal of stress for every resident of the home. Even pets can become unpredictable when the invasion occurs.

Hearing deficits, mobility challenges, or vision loss can add a great deal of frustration to a visit that should be sweet and loving. Children’s high-pitched voices are much more difficult to understand for someone who experiences difficulty hearing, and reduced vision can create fall risks not normally present. If you care for someone who has problems walking or is prone to falls, running children and their toys create dangerous hazards for your loved one. Add to this a home that is not child-proofed and you have an environment that can invite broken knick-knacks, broken hips, and broken hearts.

But when visits with children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren are well planned, they can connect generations and strengthen family ties. Grandparents get to experience their living legacies and the joy of their youth. Grandkids get to learn of their family’s history and heritage. A sense of family continuity can be fostered from an early age when visits are well orchestrated.

Here are some tips for managing a multi-generational visit that will have everyone feeling wonderful at the end of the visit! Since these are targeted toward the parents of the little ones coming to visit, feel free to share these suggestions prior to arrival, so everyone is on the same page.

 Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about managing family visits successfully.


Trust, but ask for help

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July 16: Finding Support for you: getting the help you need

Everyone hits a wall now and then in life. Whether you are a career professional, a new parent or spouse, or have lived many decades, you can think of times when you faced something that seemed insurmountable. As a family caregiver, you probably experience days where you feel you don’t have an ounce of care left to give. Every family caregiver has been there or needs to be warned that those days will come over time.

Truth is, being a caregiver of any kind is hard work, and not for the weak. When you feel like giving up and throwing in the towel, remember that you are not alone in this struggle. Many have experienced what you are going through and may have suggestions to help you get through the difficult times, but it’s up to you to send up an SOS and ask for help. Your family and friends can’t read your mind, and God didn’t put you on this path to let you fail. He will give you the strength to endure and the resources you need to do what you must. Some of those resources might just be your family and friends, but you might not ever know this if you don’t make your needs known.

 One thing about our God: He’s never a minute late, or a second early. He does things in His own perfect time. God exists outside the boundaries of our chronology, so He has the ability to know when the exact moment is for His solution or resource to have the greatest effect on your situation. The Holy Spirit knows your needs and He will supply everything necessary for you to provide the care your loved one requires. His one requirement is for you to put all your trust in Him and acknowledge His presence and His working in your life and circumstances. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us that when we do this, He will direct our paths. From my perspective, that’s the best place to be, on the path God has shown me!

 God also knows when you need others to step in and give you a break. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from the people around you who know about your situation and care about you and your loved one. Watch to see how God stirs their hearts and opens up their ability to provide support and assistance in His perfect way. Then, when He does, share your story to encourage others in their time of need.

 Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about how God supports and provides for every need in your caregiving journey.


Beat the Heat!

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Beat the Summer Heat!

How is your summer going? Are you staying cool and comfortable as we enter the hottest part of the season? How about your mom or dad? When the summer heat rises, your job is to make sure your loved one is safe and secure. Seniors’ bodies don’t adapt quickly to changing temperatures, so you should build in strategies to protect your older loved ones from overheating during the dog days of summer.

For some seniors, chronic diseases or their managing medications can impair the body’s internal thermostat, making them more intolerant to extreme heat or temperature swings like moving from an air-conditioned house or car into the sweltering sunlight. Multiple sclerosis, diabetes, obesity, and fibromyalgia are a few of these chronic conditions that impair a senior’s ability to tolerate summer’s heat. Poor circulation can also make a senior feel cold even when temperatures are hot, leading to inappropriate clothing choices that trap body heat which could lead to heat stroke.

Here are a few suggestions to help you successfully keep things cool as a family caregiver:

  1. Proper hydration is essential for both you and those you care for during hot weather. Keep a glass of water on hand. Encourage your loved one to drink throughout the day- most doctors recommend 8 glasses. If water is distasteful, add a little fruit juice or carbonation for a more interesting drink. Be careful of sugary soft drinks, caffeinated, or alcoholic beverages as these don’t offer adequate hydration!
  2. Wear seasonally appropriate clothing, keeping in mind that you both probably need to dress in layers so you can add or subtract as needed when moving from one extreme to another throughout the day. Consider that your loved one might prefer to have the house warmer than you would like; my mother always kept the thermostat set in the upper 70’s no matter the season!
  3. Summer meals should contain lots of locally sourced fruits and veggies, and cold foods like salads and fruit are all smart components that can help you manage your loved one’s comfort and health during the hottest weeks. Avoid using the oven if possible or use it early in the morning when temperatures outside are lowest. Try using the microwave or toaster oven to avoid heat buildup in the kitchen.
  4. Try to plan errands and appointments first thing in the morning to minimize temperature swings as you move between indoors and outside, and leave the car windows cracked to help with heat buildup. A windshield shade is also a great idea. Activities like gardening or walking should be done in the early morning or after sunset. Sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat are excellent additions to everyone’s summer wardrobe!
  5. If the house isn’t air-conditioned, summer is an excellent time for day-trips to the library, your local senior center, going to the movies or enjoying a meal out. Doing these activities during the hottest part of the day can give both of you a much-needed break from the warm house.

For more tips on how to keep yourself and your senior cool during a long, hot summer, check out these 12 Summer Safety Tips for Seniors. And remember, working ahead and having a plan is the best way to navigate family caregiving and stay cool during summer’s heat! Chris and I hope you will join our conversation and share your heart about ways to stay cool this summer.


Independence and Age-Related Decline

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Our nation will celebrate her 243rd birthday this week! These United States are a nation of fiercely independent individuals who like to blaze their own trail and stand on their own two feet. From those early days of pioneer settlers who struggled to exist in a hostile and foreign environment until today, Americans are people who find a way to make good things happen over and over again.

For this reason, when age combined with chronic illness or disease begins to rob your aging family members of their independence, and they begin to need help, they may try to deny this truth or hide their frailties from you and other family members and friend. Reasons for this can range from pride to fear, but whatever motivates their reluctance to admit the need for help, their feelings are valid and need careful understanding and creative solutions to address their concerns and get them the help they require.

Imagine your dad’s embarrassment when he becomes incontinent. Wearing adult diapers might be the answer, but a urologist should also be consulted to see if there is an underlying cause that could be treated or cured. If he hides this inconvenient and uncomfortable health concern from you and others, it will probably restrict his social interactions. Perhaps he stops playing golf with the Thursday morning gang or doesn’t want to go to the coffee club at Hardee’s anymore. The sudden cessation of healthy social interactions is a big red flag that something is going on.

What if your mom can’t remember how to make the grandchildren’s favorite cookies? Maybe she suggests they go get ice cream instead; one time isn’t a trend, but you should watch to see if her memory is failing her. Ask some simple questions that will require her to remember something complex and see if she can answer it. If she can’t, don’t panic! We all have bad days now and then, but observe over time, and if you see indications that her memory isn’t what it used to be, it could fall to you to ease into a conversation about where help is needed and how to find solutions that might improve her situation.

Any conversation about an aging parent’s need for help might feel like fireworks at first, but can give you some tips on how to avoid the gunpowder and enjoy the light show when things get better. Many individuals who resist assistance at first find that once a helping routine gets comfortable, their lives are much better, and they have a renewed sense of independence.
Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver dot com and share your heart about the best ways to enhance and celebrate independence.

Finding Your Tonto

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While caring for my mother in her last months, I sometimes felt like nobody really understood what I was dealing with. My brother, who lived right next door, couldn’t see how rapidly she was declining because he saw her every day. I would go a few weeks between visits and when I returned the changes were startling. Even at the very end, close family friends and neighbors couldn’t believe that she was nearing the end, but by that time I was living with her and knew we didn’t have much time left. The intense grief I felt was paired with the hope that she wouldn’t suffer very long. There was also guilt because Christmas was approaching with its complexities of holiday traditions and family expectations, and I couldn’t be with my family because I was with my mother. The professional caregivers that were there to help me were truly a blessing, but there were many days when I felt isolated, abandoned and alone.

When you are a family caregiver, that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto to show up when the going got tough. We all need one or more people that we can turn to when we need assistance in providing consistent, quality care for aging family members or friends. If you have a large, close-knit family in the area, you are truly blessed! If not, how about neighbors or friends, or your church family? Try to involve them in caring for your loved one if they are willing and available. Don’t expect them to guess where you need their help but be specific in asking for support. Invite them to observe and learn about what you do so they can feel confident in helping out, and also so someone else will know the ropes if you should need to take an unplanned break due to illness or injury.

If you don’t have a trustworthy support network close by, explore options for community-based services or private-pay agencies that could fill in as necessary from time to time. That’s why my brother and I asked the local Home Instead office to help out with my mom. She had been a client for five years, so going from just a few hours a day to around the clock care was a dramatic increase, but the relationship was already established so expanding her care was a breeze, and took a tremendous load off my shoulders for providing help when her needs moved beyond my limited ability. Honestly, I don’t know what I would have done without those wonderful caregivers!

Before you get to the end of your rope as a family caregiver, remember that God called you to this work, and He will provide for your needs and carry you through every situation you face if you lean on Him and let Him guide you in getting the help you need. In addition to possibilities like extended family, friends and neighbors, your church family and professional caregivers, God is also on your side. When you think of it that way, you can move from a position of desperation to one of gratitude and abundance!

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver dot com and share your heart about finding your Tonto.